Goldhanger's Red Brick Walls

The widespread red brick boundary walls in the centre of the village are not seen at other locations locally or elsewhere and could well be unique to the village. The Revd. C.B. Leigh, rector between 1846 and 1893 and a major land owner at the time, was said to have been responsible for building the walls around the Church and the school and is said to have encouraged other property owners to build them to keep farm animals out of their front gardens. This was at that time when there were two farms in the middle of the village (Church Farm which the rector owned, and Hall Farm). Both had animals that would have been driven along the main streets each day to fields on the outskirts of the village.

Today the walls are seen as a significant feature of the village and the 67-page Goldhanger Conservation Area Review produced by Maldon district and Essex County Councils in 2007, recognised the importance of these walls and referred to them many times throughout the document, even commenting on the condition of each individual wall. Here are some extracts of the general comments:

The conservation area is given cohesion and a sense of identity by the common use of low red brick boundary walls to properties... Historic red brick walls fronting both old and new properties enclosing the street edges... The soft red brick, generally laid in Flemish bond, is a common feature for the walling... and make a significant impact on the area... The low red brick walls with a variety of forms of capping are very prominent in the conservation area. These are particularly common around the Square, along Church Street and the northern end of Fish Street... They date from the 19th century.

Soft brick, particularly where used with lime mortar, adds warmth, colour and texture to the streetscape. Some newer houses that have replaced older cottages have retained the historic brick boundaries, which helps them to bed into the historic environment... There has been some attempt, with varying degrees of success, to emulate the historic walls on some modern properties.

The walls are not of a uniform construction, varying in height and style of capping, although they all appear to be made with the same size Victorian bricks. The one exception to this seems to be the Church brick gate posts which are made from a slightly longer 9-inch brick, which suggests these were added later, probably when the Bentall family donated the wrought iron gates.

There are no signs of any small Tudor bricks, which would confirm the origin of the walls as being mid 1800s. The walls around the churchyard have angled capping and would appear to be oldest and are probably the least modified. Some very old walls in Head St. have rounded capping, as do most of the recently built walls in Church St. A few early walls and those built in the 1950s-60s have square capping.

The use of soft red bricks with lime mortar on exposed walls with no damp course has resulted in their deteriorate over time due to dampness. The moisture encourages ivy, moss and lichen, and although not unattractive in appearance results in the need regular re-pointing and maintenance, which changes the appearance.


It is also noticeable that the older walls in Head St and Church St. near to The Square seem to have deteriorated more quickly than those in other places and this could be attributed to salting of roads in winter and traffic fumes attacking the porous surfaces. This close up recent photo of a typical section of wall has angled brick capping and shows the signs of dampness at both the top and at the base, and erosion in the middle. The white appearance is efflorescence caused by salt. Salts emerge from inside new bricks just after building work, but in old walls sea salt or more likely salting of roads is said to be the main source.

Postcard street scenes - revealing how extensive and uniform the walls were a hundred years ago. . .


This postcard shows the wall at Lavender Cottage at the north end of Church Street with the wall extending down to the Blacksmiths that was once opposite The Cricketers Inn. Most of this stretch of wall is exists but with several sympathetic entrances made for newer properties.



The wall opposite Hall Farm in Church Street once extended across both the farmyard of Church Farm and the front of the village school. The wall is still in place with openings made for the two properties that have been built to replace the Tithe Barn. The school originally had walls on all sides of the playground as seen in an early view from the Church tower and a postcard scene of the school .

Apart from the buildings, The Square is virtually surrounded by red brick walls. On the south side there is the boundary wall of the Chequers car-park and on the north side both 2 Head St & 6 Head St have boundary walls.

The close-up of an early postcard scene looking up Fish St to (on the left) shows a collapsed wall on the corner of No.2, and a close-up(on the right) taken from a postcard of No.6 indicates that the wall had recently been re-pointed at the time the photo was taken in the early 1900s.




The eastern end of Head Street close to The Square also had extensive walls on both sides of the road as shown in this early postcard. The wall along The Chequers car park, which was probably an allotment when this photo was taken, seems to be noticeably higher than on the north side of the road, and today the wall behind the village pump still has several higher sections.



This picture of the former Parish Rooms in Head St. shows curved sections of wall built in the traditional way when the Parish Rooms were built in 1906. The left-hand section has angled capping while the right-hand side has rounded capping. It was probably done this way to match the adjacent properties. Sadly these walls were lost when the Parish Rooms were demolished in the 1980s.


The top end Fish St. also had a uniform wall on the east side from The Mill that extended as far as the Bird-in-Hand as shown in this postcard photo taken from outside the Mill House. As this part of Fish St distinctly slopes, the wall has a laddered top in consequence of the bricks being laid on the level. This stretch of wall is still largely intact but with several openings made into the newer properties.




At the location of the Mill and what is now 11a Fish St. there was previously a small unique “Foot Stile” set into the base of the wall. This was to enable Mill workers coming up Fish St to take a short cut into the mill. Sadly this feature was lost when 11a was built in the early 2000s.

The wall in front of Beehive Cottages (on the right in this photo) came in for particular praise in the 2007 Conservation Area Review with these words:

These cottages represent a good survival of vernacular cottages where many have been lost. The front boundary wall is particularly good, comprising both yellow stock bricks (which are not particularly common in boundary walls) and red bricks with half rounded brick capping.

The wall has since been sympathetically restored since that time.



Looking up Fish St from the Bird-in-Hand the Allotments boundary wall can clearly be seen in this 1950s postcard. This wall is now (in 2016) desperately in need of restoration and is covered in ivy. It is of interest that the 1950s photo shows the section nearest the gate in the foreground had recently been restored, and today is leaning badly.


The red brick walls around the Churchyard

The Revd. C.B. Leigh, rector between 1846 and 1893, was responsible for renovating St Peters Church and at the same time building the walls around the churchyard to keep the farm animals out that belonged to Church Farm next door and Hall Farm across the street. This recent photo of the front wall shows that it is still in a reasonable condition...

The full extent of the wall on the north side can be seen in this unusual photograph from the early 1980s taken from the site of the derelict Tithe Barn at Church Farm, with the Old Rectory in the background. The last of the Elm trees were still in place at the time and the wall was covered in ivy...

This scene at the eastern end of the churchyard, photographed in 2012, shows the wall, the stile and one of the best views across to the estuary. The photo is one of the...

Panoramic Scenes of Goldhanger


Sadly in the autumn of 2015 a large section of the wall at the eastern end of the churchyard collapsed. Fortunately the section show above with the stile survived. It is a very exposed position and had been leaning for some time. There are plans to rebuild it, but this incident should be taken as a sign of how vulnerable these walls are if not adequately maintained, particularly where lime mortar had been used in the construction.


The section of the east wall that collapsed contained an intriguing archway which in recent years caused much speculation as to its origin. The archway is clearly shown on this close-up taken from the cover of the Goldhanger Millennium Calendar. Some speculated that it might have even been the remains of a smugglers cave that once connected the churchyard to the Creek. However, its origin is more mundane. It was simply an arch built over the roots of a very large elm tree that stood in this location until Dutch Elm decease killed the tree.




Fortunately, in 2018 the fallen section of the wall was re-built by the local builder using the original capping bricks many of the old bricks using  traditional methods.

The 2007 Conservation Area Review stated:

The churchyard is bounded on its west, north and part of the east side by a characteristic red brick boundary wall ... this wall once completely enclosed the space, but when the churchyard was extended in 1899 a new iron boundary fence was erected.

It is surprising to see this reference to a brick wall on the south side of the churchyard, as little evidence of that remains. However, there is some current and historical evidence for this so the assertion seems correct... Maura Benham's book Goldhanger - an Estuary Village refers to the 1899 graveyard extension on Page-66. An archaeological dig in Church field to the east of the Church in 2011 revealed only a dump of red bricks dating from the 18th or 19th century and were most likely to be the remains of that wall.

Until recently there were signs of the existance of the former wall at both ends:

here is where the wall probably joined onto the Chequers

buildings at the western end... is where the wall joined onto the eastern boundary wall.

Two early postcards showing the front and rear of the Church both show what appears to be a long straight wall on the south side of the churchyard, as does an early postcard view from the Creek.

Furthermore, the 1906 and 1922 maps shows the south boundary of the churchyard in a different positions...

1906 map extract >

< 1922 map extract

An assessment of general condition of the walls

The village red brick boundary walls identified on the map provide the boundaries for over 40 separate properties and if all joined end to end would stretch for 3/4 of a mile. Considering that most are fragile of soft brick with lime mortar, are exposed in all weathers, and in many locations exposed to the consequences of modern traffic, are generally in a remarkably good condition for their age. However, these walls need, and in the past have received regular maintenance. Today it is obvious in a few places where this has not been carried out. It is not a coincidence that sections of wall that are in most need of attention today are near The Square where the heavy trucks and buses emit the maximum amount of exhaust fumes as they accelerate away from the junction.

Perversely, some of the old-world-charm of the village is in part due to the sense of maturity and history created by these partially decaying walls. If all the walls all were suddenly restored to a pristine condition, or worse, replaced, much of this atmosphere would lost.

Perhaps we should ask if these walls steadily disappearing... Although the churchyard south wall was demolished about 100 years ago, and other small sections have disappeared to make access to new properties, in the last quarter of a century several new stretches of wall have been built, notably between 1 and 9 Church Street. So overall it would seem a similar amount of wall still exists. The recently built walls in Church Street have replicated the style of the walls at other locations and those lost from outside the Parish Rooms, which have both curved corners and rounded capping, giving a particularly agreeable appearance in keeping with Goldhanger's past.


Did you know about...